When you find yourself with a surplus of aromatic herbs on your balcony and don't know what to do with them, don't worry – there's always a way to incorporate them into your dishes with a little imagination!
As the saying goes, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!"
Aromatic herbs require less attention compared to other plants in the garden, so much so that we often risk forgetting about them!
Undoubtedly, they are very resilient plants, but they can add a truly special touch to our dishes. Without aromatic herbs, many recipes in Mediterranean cuisine would lose their essence. Although aromatics are available year-round, it doesn't mean that their usage can't change based on the season, other ingredients, or our preferences.
As a general rule, it's preferable to pluck fresh leaves right when you want to use them. On the other hand, if you want to preserve them, they should be collected and left to dry.
Now, let's see how to use the main aromatic herbs in the kitchen!
Seasonal aromatics: the fresh ones
Let's start with a balcony plant that needs no introduction: basil. It shines best when used fresh, added at the end of cooking to pasta, pizza, salads, and bruschettas. To preserve its essential oils, instead of cutting basil with a knife, you can tear it with your hands.
If you're thinking of making pesto, keep in mind that (as incredible as Genovese pesto is), there are modern versions just as delicious, such as sun-dried tomato pesto – easy to prepare and perfect for an aperitivo. All you need is cherry tomatoes, grated cheese, almonds, basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt, et voilà!
Mint, the quintessential invasive aromatic, is extremely refreshing! It can be used for more than just mojitos – try putting sprigs in a pitcher with some citrus and ice to quench your thirst on hot days. Mint is excellent for flavoring cooked and raw vegetables in salads and couscous, fresh legumes, yogurt sauce, and desserts.
For something even cooler, try Peppermint. You can use it for cold infusions during summer afternoons or add it to steaming hot chicken broth as an after-meal aid to digestion. In Arab culture, it is often served at weddings after the meal or just before returning home.
For those who can't decide, parsley is always a safe choice. After all, parsley goes well with everything! It is widely used in cooking to enhance and flavor appetizers, pasta dishes, fish, and meat. From the classic spaghetti with clams, perfect with a sprinkle of parsley, to more complex preparations like aioli sauce, used in Spanish cuisine to accompany fish and traditional dishes like fideuà.
Moving towards Arab cuisine, we find it in hummus and yogurt sauce, commonly used as dressings for falafel and salads. Heading to Asia, we see it in the filling of steamed dumplings, essential for enhancing the aroma of the filling and making the ravioli's aroma pleasant once opened.
Perennial aromatics: the classics
For lovers of rustic flavors, rosemary is among the most balsamic herbs used in cooking. It can be used both fresh (more aromatic) and dried.
A faithful companion to garlic, rosemary is essential for preparing baked or pan-fried potatoes. It is also widely used to flavor cooked meats, barbecues, roasts, and stews, such as lamb, beef, chicken, and rabbit. Added whole, chopped, mixed with other herbs, or infused in oil, rosemary is excellent for flavoring focaccias and pizzas, as well as infusions, soups, and cocktails like the gin and tonic. For smoking enthusiasts, rosemary can be an excellent aromatizing agent to burn!
A good substitute for thyme is marjoram, which is slightly sweeter and more fragrant. It is preferable not to cook it but add it only at the end of cooking to maintain its aroma and nutritional properties. It is used as a seasoning in typically Mediterranean dishes, especially with meat and sauces.
Sage, on the other hand, should be used in the kitchen sparingly due to its intense aroma!
Paired with butter, it becomes the winning combination for our ravioli. Alternatively, you can enjoy it fried in batter, with pumpkin, in sauces, meat dishes like Roman-style saltimbocca, roasts, and boiled dishes. For something fresh, try sage in a fruit salad or sage sorbet, usually served during meals to cleanse the palate between courses.
If you want to surprise your guests with an exotic touch in your cocktails, try pineapple sage – ideal for summer aperitifs, but also a remedy for the winter period in the form of a relaxing and digestive herbal tea.
A Burst of Aromatics
When you have multiple varieties of aromatic herbs on your balcony, you can gather them all together and chop or break them, put them in oil with a clove of garlic to infuse for a couple of hours. After that, you can add them to meat, fish, roasted potatoes, or use them as a base for tomato-based sauces.
Not necessarily fresh
Drying aromatic plants means preparing in advance, allowing you to stock up on flavors throughout the year.
Waste not! Drying herbs is highly recommended when you start pruning the most lush plants whose collected leaves you don't want to use immediately.
What are the most popular culinary uses for dried aromatic herbs? Well, for tea lovers, you can't miss the chance to make balsamic and digestive infusions. There's no need for a specific recipe – feel free to experiment with your favorite herbs, but remember to use the leaves! If the stems are woody, they can be very bitter.
To give your dishes an extra kick, you can choose to use finely ground herbs to integrate them as an ingredient in your preparations or tie them in bunches to remove them later after completing your sauce, roast, or gravy.
But how do you dry herbs at home?
For city dwellers, it is best to avoid drying aromatics in the open air due to environmental pollution in urban areas. In these cases, it's better to opt for oven drying: simply turn on the oven to the lowest setting (around 30°C) and place the collected herbs in a pan, leaving the oven door open to let the moisture escape. There are no precise timings, as different ovens and herb species have varying characteristics. However, it shouldn't take more than a few hours to complete the drying process.
If you want to save on gas and speed up the process, you can use the microwave. After washing and drying your harvest, place it on the microwave plate and set it to about 700 W. Again, the duration varies depending on the species – start with short intervals (30 seconds) to avoid overdrying or burning.
Generally, basil and chives may only need a little over a minute, while bay leaves or rosemary will be ready in a maximum of 3 minutes.
Our advice is to test the timing gradually, starting with a few leaves or sprigs and increasing the quantity once you have a clear idea of the most suitable times.
Now all you have to do is choose your favorite varieties and let your creativity flow. Take a look at our catalog of aromatics for inspiration and experiment with your next recipes.Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash
Photo by petr sidorov on Unsplash